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The “Eddie Robinson Rule” Could Boost Number of Minority College Sports Coaches

A group of major college athletic directors are working on guidelines to boost the number of minority coaches hired to lead college sports teams. They aim to correct these disparities: 49 percent of football players in Division I-A teams are Black, but only 5 percent of the head coaches are. In Division I men’s basketball, where 58 percent of the players are African-American, 25 percent of the head basketball coaches are of color.

The effort couldn’t start soon enough considering Black Coaches and Administrators gave 10 schools failing grades in its most recent Hiring Report Card. For the past four years, BCA has critically analyzed and graded NCAA Division I-A and I-AA schools that conducted searches to fill football head coaching positions.

“We’re trying to make the hiring process transparent,” says BCA executive director Floyd A. Keith. “For so long, it’s been behind closed doors. What we’ve attempted to do is to say, ‘If you have an inclusive and diverse search, then the right candidate will be hired.’”

The BCA graded schools looking to fill a head coaching positions on five categories: communication, search committee, final candidates, time frame and affirmative action. Keith is quick to point out that in its recent report several schools, such as Central Michigan and Iowa State, received A’s even though they ended up not hiring an African-American “We have tried to evaluate the process and if the process is inclusive, diverse and sincerely done,” Keith says.

Now, a group of athletic directors are trying to address precisely these issues. The Division I-A Athletic Directors Association has been working with Attorney Cyrus Mehri for nearly a year to help develop a practice similar to the Rooney Rule that Mehri helped construct for the National Football League. The Rooney Rule mandates that NFL teams interview minority candidates for head coaching opportunities, and those that don’t face stiff fines.

Division I-A schools will have a practice rather than a policy, but Mehri says executive director Dutch Baughman — who has marshaled support for these guidelines — will closely monitor implementation and adherence to the practice.

“Whether by policy or by practice, you can effectuate change in an entity or their culture,” Mehri says. “There are different routes to the same place. The route that’s going to work on Division I-A is going to be in the form of guidelines, which will set a best practice. All the athletic directors will be judged against that best practice.

“In any organization, it requires more than just a policy. It requires commitment from the top and it requires a lot of diligence,” Mehri says, adding that the association hopes to have this “Eddie Robinson Rule” in effect before the next hiring cycle begins next month.

Although the BCA welcomes the progress, Keith says the organization will also consider litigation as a means of pushing diversity forward. “I hope we don’t have to go there, but we’re not afraid to do that,” he says. “You hope you don’t have to have a train wreck to draw a crowd.

What the AD group is considering, Keith says, is “probably the first sign I’ve seen on the administrative level to address the problem. That’s a positive … . But we’re not seeing enough movement. At the end of the day, it’s numbers and the numbers don’t show there’s any change happening.”

Mehri understands that criticism, but notes that change takes time. “You’ve got to start with a small victory and then have that become a standard by which business is being done,” he says. “That’s what we hope will take place, but it will take three to four years before we see whether it has been achieved.”

–Lois Elfman


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A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics
American sport has always served as a platform for resistance and has been measured and critiqued by how it responds in critical moments of racial and social crises.
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A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics